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Are Digital Comic Chapters A Viable Business Model for Storytelling?

Penny Dreadfuls was a term used to describe publications created in 19th century Britain featuring sordid and often violent serialized fiction. These publications featured a segment of a larger story over a period of weeks. Charles Dickens used this serialized format for his earlier body of work, selling chapters of his novels as they were completed. This form of serialized storytelling has evolved over the years. Newspapers from the early to mid-20th century (that sounds so long ago, bleh) ran daily comic strips such as Spider-Man, Terry and The Pirates, The Spirit, and countless others which told a larger story each week day. As technology became more dominate in everyone’s lives, the daily comic strip was eventually replaced by web comics. Even though the majority of web comics are of the gag-a-strip type, there are some web comics publishing a number of pages or panels each week which together form a larger story. As a business model, the serial format for web comics is viable and profitable dependent on three key factors: marketing, loyal audience, and longevity. This is where digital comic chapters or chunks (as I like to call them) comes in. The digital comics market has proven to be a success for both independent and mainstream publishers. Digital publishing does away with the biggest costs associated with publishing (printing and distribution), which means one could have a higher profit. This profit could be even higher if a publisher decides to “distribute” the digital comic themselves instead of going through Comixology, Drive-Thru Comics, iVerse, or any other digital comic distributor / seller. Brian K. Vaughn and Marcos Martin’s excellent The Private Eye digital comic (http://panelsyndicate.com/) is a perfect example of this. Granted, both have a built-in audience in addition to having a reputation for doing quality work. Still, the point is distributing your own digital comic is a potentially lucrative option. Which leads me to digital chunks. Digital chunks (for lack of a better, more eloquent term) is the creation and distribution of “chunks” of a digital comic priced at a low price of no more than a dollar. This isn’t an original idea (Monkeybrain Comics, for example) but it is one well worth considering especially for new creators like myself for a couple of reasons: Low risk for the new customer: most consumers would be more likely to try a new product at a low price. Free would be better which is why it is a smart move to make the first digital chunk or chapter available for free. Easier to create: From a creative standpoint, being the sole creator of a lengthy piece of work is intimidating- especially when there is no guarantee it will be profitable. By breaking the project down into manageable chunks, it is much easier to not only keep the work on schedule but also see a return on investment sooner rather than later. Speaking of earlier ROI: By having an earlier ROI (Return On Investment), the creator will see they are on the right track in regards to their project being one worth sticking with. The catch is knowing how long to give your project to make a dependable income. Time To Market: With doing chunks of your digital comic, you would be able to have a relatively quick output. This is especially true if you were to have some of the chunks ready to go before you post the first chunk. The same could be applied to serializing your digital comic as a web comic. However, with web comics, there are two things to remember: one is the standard updating of your typical web comic is between three to five times a week. This would require a rather large amount of work ready to go before posting the first page if you want to keep this kind of schedule; second, there are more marketing opportunities with digital chunks. Instead of posting a new update to your followers everytime a new page goes up which can turn into white noise after a while, you would just be updating your followers every so often when a new chunk / chapter is available. This would be more noticeable and likely to prompt a clickthrough. I’ve gone back-and-forth on which business model to use for my upcoming projects and I always came back to the digital chunks model. There are so many things to consider when publishing anything in today’s market. Giving my potential audience short, easily digestible digital chunks of my work seems like the option which has the most potential to gain traction and generate a profit. I’ll be sure to post how things go in the coming months.

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